story3: Bodhisattva’s Marvelous Dharanis
Today we will continue to talk about a topic related to a Buddhist Story. Some bodhisattvas may just tune in today. So, to let everyone catch up, the reason we are talking about this specific topic is because it’s from one of the “Buddhist Stories”.
The story is about a man who wanted so eagerly to learn a mantra (dharani) that could hurt his nemesis. Even knowing that this mantra could backfire and hurt himself, he had no fear of the consequences, and still wanted to get his hand on it. All that he desired was to hurt his enemy, despite the fact that it would also harm him. We will carry on and have more discussion about it.
Last time, we discussed multiple dharanis in Mahāpraj?āpāramitā-sūtra, which already exceed the original method of memorization. They also include methods of understanding, forbearance and observing dharmas non-arising in behavior. We also mentioned that when a dharani is simplified further, it will be summarized into a method discussed in Mahaprajna Paramita Sastra. It says in Mahaprajna Paramita Sastra that the Sanskrit language system is built on 42 basic letters which starts with “Ah” and ends with “Tu”. This type of dharani has the crucial doctrines of Buddha dharmas embedded in the 42 base letters.
When we embed into the “Ah” all doctrines related to all dharmas non-arising or the acceptance of never being born (anutpattika-ksanti) and their goals of behavior observation and when we hear people say “Ah” in the conversation, we will involuntarily connect it to the doctrines of all dharma non-arising. Therefore, while we come cross “Ah” either when we hear other people mention it or we ourselves say it when talking to ourselves, we will remind ourselves to look deeply into the doctrines of all dharma non-arising and observe in-depth all the behavior and phenomenon related to all dharma non-arising. This is one way of practicing, which is through the syllable “Ah”.
Other than “Ah”, Bodhisattva Nagarjuna also used other letters from these 42 base letters as examples, such as “Luo”, which stands for all dharmas being pure without defilement. This also means when you are conversing with others, the moment you hear the syllable “Luo”, you should be reminded how to observe all dharmas being pure without defilement.
Another example is the base letter “Bo”, which means all dharmas returning to the ultimate truth, and of course, the ultimate truth is the doctrine of Tathāgatagarbha. So, whenever you hear the syllable “Bo” in a conversation, you should examine the correlation between the current state and Tathāgatagarbha, as well as how to return to the ultimate truth.
Likewise, a total of 42 base letters starting from “Ah” are given different doctrines of Buddha Dharma—this is what we called Letter Dharani. Obviously, both the five hundred Dharanis that we discussed before and the Letter Dharanis are simplified methods for learning. Please be noted that they are mnemonic that centralizes all Dharmas and holds all meanings. Again, they are ways to help you learn. Because these 42 letters are the base letters in the ancient Sanskrit, they are endowed with specific meaning of Buddha Dharma. However, if you want to apply the idea of Dharanis on these 42 base letters to any other language again, it might not be suitable.
For example, mandarin, the language that we are speaking, does not use the 42 letters as the basics and build on them, neither is English. We would get the whole idea of Dharani wrong if we take what Bodhisattva Nagarjuna said word by word. Therefore, Dharanis, as mnemonic to centralize all dharmas and hold all meanings, are suitable back then in the ancient Sanskrit when they were applied to the 42 basic letters.
So, in modern times, wouldn’t it be better for our practice if we develop a set of dharanis based on the pronunciation of mandarin? Hence, for what Bodhisattva Nagarjuna said regarding these 42 letters, my opinion is that we don’t make the 42 letters holy. The goal of learning Buddha dharmas is to understand its meaning and essence, but not to study these letters.
In the Yogācārabhūmi-?āstra, Bodhisattva Maitreya also talked about dharanis for the bodhisattvas and his standpoint is the same as Bodhisattva Nagarjuna. In the previous episodes, we’ve talked about bodhisattva Nagarjuna stated that sound-hearers, or ?rāvaka, practice for self-liberation, hence the dharmas they have to learn are relatively simple and they do not have to be particular about the method they use.
For bodhisattvas, it is different. Because Bodhisattvas have to practice for three asamkhyeya oens (kalpa) to liberate themselves and all beings and the dharmas they need are massive. So, bodhisattvas have to set goals for each phase and have to have specific methods. This is emphasized in Yogācārabhūmi-?āstra. In this regard, the Dharanis mentioned are called Bodhisattvas Dharanis. That it emphasizes on “bodhisattvas” is because they are what the Bodhisattvas need and they are specifically for Bodhisattvas. Bodhisattva Dharanis contain four parts, i.e. Dharma Dharani, Meaning Dharani, Forbearance Dharani, and Incantation Dharani. Bodhisattva Maitreya added “bodhisattva” to each dharani in order to emphasize that these dharanis are what bodhisattvas should learn. Bodhisattva Dhrama Dharani is to help remember all Buddha dharmas without forgetting them, which is similar to the aforesaid Hear-and-Retain Dharani in Five hundred Dharanis.
Bodhisattvas Meaning Dharani is a way to understand and remember the meanings of all Buddha dhramas, which is similar to Differentiating Dharani that we discussed earlier. Just like the difference between Differentiating Dharani and Hear-and-Retain Dharani, Meaning Dharani is more in-depth and marvelous than Dharma Dharani in terms of the state of dharma involved
The third is called Forbearance Dharani. Please be noted that for the Forbearance Dharani discussed here, Bodhisattva Maitreya emphasizes on abiding in the ultimate truth of dharmas, which is very different from the Sound Dharani that we mentioned earlier. The Sound Dharani means to stay indifferent of, not excited or upset with, the words and sounds of others. But the forbearance in Forbearance Dharani is abiding in the ultimate truth of dharmas. In other words, “forbearance” in practicing Buddhism is not simply the practice of not getting agitated. Not getting agitated is of the mundane forbearance, or the forbearance of the living beings.
In terms of abiding in the ultimate truth of dharmas, most of it is about forbearance of dharma, which is generally overlooked by regular Buddhist learners. Why do we say that? Well, generally, most people when they start to learn Buddhism, hope to gain some guidance from Buddhas and Bodhisattvas on life, business, prosperity, and more. Some people care more about the ability of telepathy, for instance whether Buddhas reveal themselves, or whether Buddhas come to rub their crown and etc, even though they don’t ask for wealth or anything openly.
Some people really crave for telepathy, which is actually quite common among beginners. We have to accept what they are because they are what they are. It is their lineage. But we hope to give the audience some suggestion: Wishing for such things shall not be the ultimate purpose of being a Buddha follower, but to achieve unsurpassed liberation and Bodhi. If you keep yearning for gaining secular benefits in learning Buddhism, high chances are you will encounter a lot of obstacles. True Buddha dhama does not teach the sentient beings how to gain the earthly benefits that they wish or desire for, but to awake them to voluntarily renounce the desires and eliminate the illusions through the Buddhas’ teaching, which is the what they shall learn.
Hence, the true Buddha dharma that we shall learn from the Buddhas is not what worldly people expect it to be, such as guidance to the right path in secular life or wealth. It is the opposite of what the worldly people expect and this is why we say that Buddha dharma does not align with common beliefs. Hope you will keep this on your mind when you hear this part of the discussion. Buddha dharma itself is pure and peaceful. Buddha dharma will not focus on supernatural power. Neither will the Buddhas reveal themselves to you constantly, nor compliment you for your accomplishment because only ghosts and deities will do so. Buddha dharma is pure and clean in itself. Practice of the true Buddha dharma starts with behavior observation of the actions of our physical body first, such as walking, standing, sitting, and laying down to observe the functionalities of the five aggregates, then proceeds to abolish the attachment of the appearance of self, and then seeks awakening. This is the real Buddha dharma.
Again, in terms of the Forbearance Dharani, it is abiding in the ultimate truth of the dharma, as Bodhisattva Maitreya says. However, those who haven’t realized awakening may not know how to abide in it. They may still learn to practice Bodhisattvas Forbearance Dharani before realizing awakening. Please keep this on your mind. Practice of the true Buddha dharma does not focus on supernatural power, does not focus on providing guidance on finding an easy path in worldly life, and does not focus on telepathy. Instead, it is simple and nothing out of ordinary. It just prepares us for being liberated from worldly worries and reaching awakening in the future. If you can accept and believe in this concept, you have already started to approach the Bodhisattvas Forbearance Dharani.
Here, I want to remind everyone again that the true Buddha dharma will not be easily accepted widely by the commonalities because it differs greatly from the mundane Dharma consented by them. The sentient beings blinded by the greediness, hatred, and ignorance would enjoy earthly dharma appealing to their senses. The zeal of fans chasing celebrities in the entertainment circle is a good example. So, you shall see that the Buddha dharma propagated as such must not be the real Buddha dharma.
When the real Bodhisattvas see the sentient beings pursuing the mundane dharma, instead of endeavoring to learn the true Buddha dharma, they cannot bear it and would call out to people to learn the true Buddha dharma. Then, they would be resisted by those who have been making profits from propagating the mundane dharma, therefore, they would have to stand up and debate against the false views and teachings. During this process, names will be mentioned, misinterpretation of the Buddha dharma will be pointed out, and the correct Buddha dharma will be stated. Such debate always focuses on establishing the correct concepts of true Buddha dharma, rather than criticizing the physical, verbal or mental misconduct of those in question. It certainly is not personal attack, therefore, it is not a question of discreetness in speech.
When a Bodhisattva cannot stand the sentient beings being fooled and stand up to tell them the right from the wrong, many ordinary people and even Buddha followers may feel that this Bodhisattva does not have restraint in speech or have good virtues. But before you judge, please make clear if this Bodhisattva is debating against the false teaching or he is criticizing others’ mistakes with no restraint. If it’s the latter, you may conclude this Bodhisattva has no virtues; Otherwise, the Bodhisattva is simply trying to stop people from being fooled by the falsified Buddha Dharma. He took the responsibility out of his compassion for us. Regarding this, we have to have a right judgment and manage to live with it. When you are successful in doing this, we can say you are approaching Bodhisattva Forbearance Dharani.
The last dharani we are going to talk about is what Bodhisattva Maitreya called “Bodhisattva Incantation Dharani”. This dharani is an articulation of serenity of meditative stabilization attained by Boddhisattvas. It is teachings capable of diminishing the sentient beings’ sufferings and proving the teachings effective and fertile. You may feel familiar with the discourse by Bodhisattva Maitreya because this dharani touches on diminishing sufferings of the sentient beings through such method as connecting the phrases and terms. For example, when some words or sentences are connected together into a paragraph and chanted, it has the magic effect of destroying disasters and suffering that the sentient being may encounter and the efforts will be awarded.
In terms of the Incantation Dharani, the discourse by Bodhisattva Maitreya, does everyone notice that the Incantation Dharani itself is composed of connecting terms and verses? By who were these verses preached? They are preached by the Bodhisattvas who are eager to relieve the sentient beings of troubles and disasters. How are they able to succeed in doing so? It is because they have achieved serenity inmeditative stabilization. In other words, Bodhisattvas with fruitful achievements in practice and realization have had strong meditative concentration which would allow they to gain supernatural power that enables them to assist sentient beings to relieve their sufferings.
There are a couple things that I have to point out in regard to what we have discussed. First, the great Bodhisattvas will never practice for the purpose of achieving the supernatural power for themselves, unless it is on-the-Ground bodhisattvas for their advanced study. They will not be able to make progress if some supernatural power is lacked. The requirement for the advancement of the Third-Ground is an example. Hence, bodhisattvas will never practice supernatural power for their own good, only with the exception of hoping to help the beings to eliminate their sufferings.
And another point is that these verses are quite similar to the incantation that we know of. As we know, an incantation will produce certain effect when it is chanted and in most cases, the effect is that the problems that trouble us are solved. However, in our case, what helps the sentient beings alleviate the sufferings is actually the supernatural power of the Bodhisattvas who chant it instead of the words. I want to say it again: That the mysterious power of Bodhisattva Incantation Dharani comes not from the Dharani itself, but from the Bodhisattvas who preach it. So, those who think the words themselves, the way of writing, or the way of chanting possess some sort of mysterious power obviously have mistaken the purpose of these Dharanis.
There is more on this topic, and we will continue in the next session.